9 September 2013

Cycling: Is a change underway?

Small but important changes are taking place in Whitchurch

A bicycle bell rang out from a child's bike outside the Town Hall as Whitchurch Town Councillors met for their monthly meeting; and a cycling issue was on the Agenda.
A coincidence?
Maybe, but cycling and sustainable transport is climbing fast up the public order paper as roads become more clogged and frustrations with motoring rise.

The Get Britain Cycling
Get Britain Cycling
The same evening the Get Britain Cycling Report was being debated in Westminster with its recommendations being accepted unanimously by the 100 MPs in the House of Commons. They included Whitchurch's own, the bicycling baronet and Chief Whip Sir George Young. Meanwhile 5000 people on bikes of all types expressed their passion on the roads outside Parliament asking for 'Space For Cycling'. Yes cycling is in the news.

But back here in Whitchurch it was a lot quieter. Being a small country town of not many more than 4000 people there is a different ambience, a different pace, but many of the issues are the same including safety on the roads.

Town Council support welcomed
While the parliamentary debate was still taking place, the Whitchurch Councillors made their small, but nevertheless important decision. They undertook to provide some limited funding to "encourage and promote sustainable travel within the town to reduce use of motor transport for short journeys".

Are changes underway?
This is not a normal function of a rural Town Council, which is more concerned with allotment competitions, painting the local swings and the timekeeping of the Town Hall clock.
Town, Borough and National
representatives took to two wheels.
But last year local elected representatives took to two wheels themselves as they toured the streets looking at conditions those who cycle face.
They supported the The Times Cities for Cycling manifesto and voted to support a 20mph pilot scheme, while this year the Mayor 'unveiled' the new cycle rack.
So small, but important things are happening. Is this all indicating the start of a wider attitude change towards the overwhelming effects of the car-culture? Is it the beginning of a greater consideration towards the more vulnerable road users and the creation of a more pleasant place to live?

Whitchurch is a wonderful
centre for cycling.
Cycling increasing but fear remains
Throughout the UK more people are pulling their bikes out of sheds. More are riding to workplaces and to the shops, while increasing numbers are enjoying the river valleys and downlands on two wheels. But not all is the happy ring of that child's bicycle bell.
Many still fear traffic.
For many there is still a fear of traffic and a lack of confidence in taking a bicycle onto today's roads. Few bikes in the local school racks more than hints at a parental fear too, and regular complaints about the large lorries, speeding drivers and pavement parking fill social media sites.

Where next?
With Whitchurch being just one-mile across what would encourage more use of the bicycle?
What would make a cycle journey more attractive than using the car?
What would entice someone to try the efficient, healthy, low cost and fun way to travel?

When we have the answers to these then perhaps we can look at providing some solutions.
'Space For Cycling' may be one of them.

10 July 2013

Is this junction at Tufton/A34 any safer? No.

Last December, a local resident (Mr Mike Stead) organised a public meeting where some very legitimate concerns about the dangers at the A34/Tufton road intersection were raised.
This junction is a major route for anyone who wishes to leave Whitchurch in a southerly direction and avoid using the fast dual carriageway A34 trunk road.

A report of that meeting is here:


This is a popular route
into the surrounding countryside.
(click to enlarge)
Hampshire County Councillor for Whitchurch and Clere, Tom Thacker, was left in no doubt that the present situation was believed to be 'an accident waiting to happen' and promised to investigate some of the ideas. With cycling becoming increasingly popular, more are using this junction as a link into the surrounding countryside but its not just cycling that is affected - the danger is as great for drivers and their families in motor vehicles too.

It is now SEVEN months later and nothing has changed. Neither Hampshire County Council nor the Highways Agency have made any improvements.
The minimum that was hoped for was to place 'barriers' in the slip road to force vehicles coming off the A34 to keep to the correct left hand lane and prevent potentially fatal head-on collisions.
Yet we now have another Summer where lives will continue to be at risk.

This is more than disappointing, but perhaps unsurprising - after all Hampshire has the highest number of KSIs (Killed or Seriously Injured) in the whole country according to latest Department for Transport figures.

Vehicles regularly cross the hatching.
Vehicles leaving the A34 continue to go on to the right hand side of the road, crossing the hatching, often at high speed.
This is frightening and potentially lethal to anyone leaving Whitchurch and turning right towards Tufton.

Whether by cycle or motor vehicle the risk of a serious collision is high.

Skid marks showing a near miss (or was it worse?)
and another vehicle crosses into a potential
head on collision position.
And the proof is there to see. There are presently some severe skid marks on the road showing that incidents have taken place, probably with very near misses or worse.
This risk can be reduced so easily and at a relatively low cost, yet it remains. Why?

Update requested
Councillor Thacker has been asked for an update:
"Could you say what actions have been and are to be taken to ensure the safety of the more vulnerable road users?"

Some news on the footpath improvements and other suggestions that were also raised at the meeting would also be welcome.

This initiative started by Mr Stead needs following through before someone is killed.

3 April 2013

HCC Campaign: Cycles and Cars - How Close?

We all know how congested our towns (such as Whitchurch) are for traffic, and that at times it can get quite worrying on a cycle unless you have nerves of steel, as some drivers will try and squeeze past when the space is not really there.
But ultimately everyone is doing the same – carrying out a journey, which should be possible without danger.

A new banner advertisement is being promoted by Hampshire County Council with what, on the face of it, seems a sensible message – drivers and cyclists are more alike than you think.

However there are some concerns about the deeper implications as the HCC 'banner' shows a person riding a bike and someone driving a car in very close proximity, something that to many can be frightening.
It also seems the HCC artwork shows the vehicles closer than in the Department for Transport Think! originals on their website guidelines. Does this HCC banner imply that leaving just a few inches between the vehicles is acceptable?
Is this something HCC are happy about?

It is not wholly clear who is overtaking who in the graphic but let's look at two very common aspects of vehicle movements:


The Highway Code says:
Rule 163: give cyclists at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car.

This is accompanied by a picture:

Does the new HCC 'endorsed' poster adhere to the principles within the Highway Code that vehicles should have a reasonable distance between them when passing?
Is the campaign material misguided? Over the sea in Ireland they have a different approach to road safety education that what seems to be the case in Hampshire.
There, they have launched an excellent short film on overtaking:


Let's assume that the driver in the HCC poster is stationary and the person cycling is passing by, as the graphic is not clear on this.

Again, does the few inches shown imply that that is a suitable distance?

Riders passing cars should be on the look out for many potential hazards, from dogs running out from behind vehicles to drivers setting off on their journey. One of the biggest hazards to those on cycles, especially when passing cars in urban areas, is the opening of the car door, which can be lethal.

However the onus must and does rightly remain with the driver not to open doors in the path of others, but regretably evidence is showing that they are taking less care and are doing so more often with disastrous results.

The Highway Code says:
Rule 239: you MUST ensure you do not hit anyone when you open your door.
Note that this is the law, not advice.

2011 saw 594 cyclists being injured after hitting or swerving around a car door.
This is up a staggering 126 on the 2009 figure.

Is the HCC campaign implying that the acceptable distance to pass vehicles is just a few inches?
Is that sensible?

While I am sure the banner was created with good intentions, the design of the poster's graphics and the deeper message that it sends out, does little for road safety, and may even be harmful. That road safety 'experts' seem to endorse this for Hampshire, a County where casualty figures for the more vulnerable are rising, is worrying.

HCC have been recently promoting this banner through social networking, and intend running a campaign this Spring/Summer. They have been invited to participate on a cycle ride to see the issues in real life situations.

Will the offer be taken up?


12 March 2013

B3400 - Unsafe to use

Today correspondence has been sent to County Councillor Tom Thacker regarding the state of the B3400 east of Whitchurch.

This road is not fit-for-purpose for cycling or walking.

To: Tom Thacker

As you know it has been raised several times that to travel between Whitchurch and Overton by cycle or by foot is extremely dangerous and the route needs improvement. There are people who want to make that journey but don't because of the lack of safe infrastructure.

The Wells-in-the-Field section has no paved footpath and Rotten Hill is a well-known local blackspot.

I believe the B3400 is amongst the top three most 'dangerous' roads in Hampshire - a statement repeated at the recent Basingstoke Cabinet Meeting that dealt with the proposed housing increases for Whitchurch and Overton.

The present growth in those settlements, together with the forthcoming opening of the gin distillery with its anticipated 100,000 visitors a year and associated lorry movements, will make this road even less fit-for-purpose as regards cycling and walking.

You are aware of lobbying before from local people who presented a petition, and I now urge you and Hampshire County Council to act before a cyclist (or pedestrian) is killed on that stretch of road.

Will you support a safe segregated cycle and pedestrian route from Whitchurch to Overton including the Wells-in-the-Field stretch?
If that were implemented not only would it provide both a safer route for both local employment and tourism needs but could also enable a safer route right through to Basingstoke, possibly as part of a Sustrans scheme.

I look forward to your reply.


12 February 2013

Cycle Safety - A year for change?

2012 may be seen as a defining year for cycling in the UK and Whitchurch has played a part.

With The Times Cyclesafe campaign came a greater call for the the needs of the more vulnerable road users, following the tragic case of Mary Bowers who was in collision with a lorry. The campaign led to a full debate in Parliament on cycling, while many cities and towns adopted the points in the Cyclesafe manifesto. The Times: Cyclesafe.

Parliamentary, Borough and Town representatives
looked at cycling issues in Whitchurch.
Whitchurch supports Cyclesafe
Here in Whitchurch, the Town Council unanimously agreed to support The Times Cyclesafe campaign. Brilliant, for a small town.

As a follow up, last April all locally elected representatives were invited to take part in a cycle ride around Whitchurch looking at local cycling issues. Setting off from the Town Hall, it was attended by Sir George Young MP, Borough Councillor Eric Dunlop – who was riding a cycle for the first time in 37 years – and several Town Councillors, including the Mayor Cllr Barry Jackman respendent in his chain of office. National, Borough and Town were thus all represented. Only the Hampshire County Councillor, from ironically the town's main highways authority, was unable to attend, sending apologies. They came on their Bikes

Cycling becomes mainstream
Other Whitchurch cycling highlights in 2012 included the well-publicised ride to Ben Nevis by Chris Miller in raising funds for the town's Youth Project (Ben Nevis and Back), and the creation of a Jubilee Cycle Route. But by far the most important local initiative was again by the Town Council when they supported a call for a 20mph speed limit pilot to be run in the town. Such schemes are one of the most effective ways of making a community feel, and be, safer, benefitting all. Towns throughout the UK are adopting such limits and it is hoped Hampshire County Council will allow Whitchurch to follow suit.

Then came the Tour de France which put cycling firmly in the limelight with Bradley 'Wiggo' Wiggins taking the winning yellow jersey; a first ever British win in the 99-year history of the race, hotly followed by the London Olympics. The icing was put firmly on the cake, as British road and track cyclists dominated both the medal tables and the TV screens. Wiggo then took the much publicised BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award.
Suddenly sideburns became fashionable again and cycling was in everyone's minds.

Many cyclists feel bullied and intimidated
so illegally take to pavements.
Lobbying, but poor road safety figures
Meanwhile lobbying for safer roads continued as the Cyclesafe campaign gained strength but it is no wonder some people have fear of our roads.
Although overall figures fall, Hampshire had shown a very disturbing increase in casualties for cycling in 2011 and the trend was upward - it mustn't continue.
Hampshire Police have tweeted "Our Killed or Seriously Injured (KSI) numbers (for 2012) will not be published in the immediate future". Apparently they need to be "verified".
Thus the Hampshire 2012 figures are awaited with much interest. Hopefully they will be better, but the signs are worrying.

Nationally the figures are not good.
Cycling deaths hit a five-year high in 2012 with 122 cyclists killed on the roads, of all ages from 8 to 94 years old, and from all walks of life. 106 of these involved a motor vehicle in which it was noted in almost all cases the driver was unhurt. It has to be questioned why safety for this class of road user is so poor.

Is the focus right?
So are current policies working?
Many claim the emphasis on hi-viz, protective clothing and the handing out fines for pavement cycling is simply missing the point. Such a focus fails to address where the real danger originates and that they are a sticking plaster over a wound which just becomes more infected. They ignore that it is mainly bad driving which kills and maims by putting the onus on the victim rather than the perpetrator. Is this one reason why the KSI figures are rising.

It may be one, but there are others too.
The law also fails take cycling deaths seriously. This is shown well by the driver who ran into a 20-year old cyclist, and carried him on his bonnet for 300 feet, killing him. He received a paltry fine of £35 and 3 points. The same court in the same week gave another driver who damaged a parked car and drove off a fine of £110 plus £80 costs and 7 points. Just where is the justice? Just what messages are being sent?
The law is saying it is worse to bump into a parked car than to kill someone.

Collecting evidence
2013 has started with representatives from various bodies giving evidence to a 'Get Britain Cycling' inquiry at Westminster under the lead of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group. Over six weekly sessions, a panel of MPs and Peers will listen to submissions from a selected group of witnesses.
The aim will be to find out just what will enable more people to cycle more regularly and more safely. Cycling takes just 2% of journeys here, while it is 18% in Denmark and 27% in the Netherlands. Look at the bike sheds in the local schools and the low useage is all too apparent.

Safe routes into the countryside
are just as important as routes in towns.
A shift in understanding is required
Segregated cycling infrastructure has a big part to play in encouraging a modal shift to cycling, as fear of traffic is a major deterrent to many. Locally this arose in the campaign by a Whitchurch resident to have the A34 slip-road / Tufton junction improved. While the HCC Councillor was in favour of some changes to the road layout, in an aside he added he would not support spending on segregated facilities between Whitchurch and Tufton for recreational cyclists. So anyone wanting a safe route to reach the surrounding countryside for leisure purposes will be disappointed - your needs don't count.
There is a long way to go to change attitudes.
'Tufton or Death' Public Meeting

Into 2013
Meanwhile there is a risk that, even with cycling to the fore in many minds, it may soon slip down the pecking order and safety for the vulnerable road users will be further compromised.
We need to keep lobbying at all levels to ensure the gains of 2012 are not lost in 2013 and that providing safe road conditions for all including cycling and walking is at the top of the agenda. It will be a long haul.

And while we wait, more will lose their lives as a result of inaction by those who have the positions to make change.

One initiative to help move this forward is a Whitchurch BUG: